Exclusive GPs were contacted by 12 patients each on average in the week after the Government unexpectedly changed its shielding advice to recommend that extremely vulnerable patients could go outside, a Pulse survey has revealed.
GPs were asked roughly how many patients in the ‘shielded’ category had contacted them for advice when the Government changed its advice on 30 May, without prior warning to clinicians.
A mid-point analysis of the responses from 605 GPs, who took part in the survey between 5 and 9 June, showed that on average each GP had 12 such contacts. The Government announced this week that patients can quit shielding from 1 August.
GPs told Pulse that the changes to guidance, which was described as having come ‘out of the blue’, had caused patients to feel anxious and confused.
Deputy CMO for England Dr Jenny Harries admitted there had been a communication ‘hiccup‘ regarding the change to advice between herself and NHS England primary care medical lead Dr Nikki Kanani – but a minister has since said it was ‘factually untrue’ to say NHS England was kept out of the loop.
Dr Farath Ayub, a locum GP in Walsall, said: ‘The patients have contacted us mainly to clarify what this actually means for them. The [change in shielding advice] has caused further anxiety in others.’
Business partner Clive Elliott said that his Telford practice has been contacted by approximately 80 shielding patients.
He said: ‘I completely understand this is a difficult situation for the Government, but by tearing up very clear shielding messages and defending senior people who broke the rules they have sown confusion amongst some of our most vulnerable patients.
‘The Government can say there has been no Cummings effect and who knows, they may even believe it themselves, but by changing clear messages and adopting a “one rule them and another for us” mentality, many people are now confused and frightened.’
GP leaders last week said it was vital for practices to be fully informed of further changes to the shielding guidance, so that they could accurately advise patients.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: ‘We understand how challenging this period is, especially for those who are shielding, and we are doing everything we can to support people, led at all times by clinical and scientific advice.
‘The decision on whether to follow shielding advice should always be based on conversations between clinicians and their patients. We are grateful to GPs, hospital specialists and all those involved in helping provide this much-needed support and guidance on the ground.’
In response to the latest announcement on changes to the shielding programme, RCGP chair Professor Martin Marshall said GPs ‘appreciate’ the notice given, which would allow them to ‘make necessary preparations’. But he added that there were ‘unanswered questions’ with regards to shielding patients’ health.
GPs and specialists will be asked to rewrite the Covid-19 shielding patient list based on a new risk prediction tool being developed by the University of Oxford and NHS Digital in case of a second virus transmission peak.
It comes as there has been a dramatic reduction in GPs’ confidence in the Government handling of the coronavirus pandemic, as revealed by the same Pulse survey.
More than 60% of GPs in England viewed political leaders’ response negatively, with more than a quarter regarding it ‘very negatively’.